Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew (25: 14-30), we hear the famous story of Jesus called the Parable of the Talents.
In this story, a man went on a long journey. Before going, however, he gave each of his three servants some money, called talents. To the first one, he gave five talents, to the second one he gave two talents, and he gave one talent to the third servant.
After a long time, the master returned and received an accounting from each of the three servants. The first servant, who had received five talents, reported that he had doubled his master’s money. The second servant reported that he, too, had doubled the money his master had entrusted to him. The master was very pleased with these two servants and said to each of them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”
The third servant, however, did nothing to grow the money his master gave him. Instead, he buried it out of fear of the master. The master was not at all pleased and called the man a “wicked, lazy servant.” He told the servant that he should have at least put it into a bank where it could have earned some interest. And then the master took the one talent from the servant and gave it to the first servant who had ten talents. Then, the master threw the lazy servant out into the darkness.
The moral of this story is that we should use the gifts that God gives us, develop them, and then use them to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.
Before discussing this more, let’s look at the inspirational story of a woman who almost ended up like the lazy servant. Fortunately, however, she ended up as an inspirational figure for the ages. Her name was Helen Keller.
Helen Keller was born in 1880 in a newspaper publisher’s family. She was a lively and healthy baby.
Then, when she was only nineteen months old, she developed a high fever that left her deaf and blind for the rest of her life. After that, her life changed dramatically.
As a child, her frustration at not being able to express herself became unbearable. She would throw wild temper tantrums when she didn’t get her way, and her table manners were terrible. She refused to care for herself well, and at times she acted more like a savage animal than a human being. She was known for her frequent bouts of kicking, screaming, and evening biting others.
She tyrannized the household by locking people in their rooms, hiding keys, and yanking tablecloths from tables filled with dishes to the floor. Some people thought she was mentally ill and should be confined to a mental institution.
Finally, before Helen’s seventh birthday, Helen’s family hired a private tutor named Anne Sullivan. Anne was twenty-one years old and graduated at the top of her class at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. She had almost been blind herself, but the physicians were able to restore most of her sight. Now she wanted to help Helen.
Initially, Helen scratched, punched, bit and kicked Anne many times. She even broke two of Anne’s teeth. Anne, however, did not give up.
Anne’s big breakthrough came when she was able to teach Helen the manual alphabet – a sign language that one can feel. Suddenly, Helen could communicate, and there was then no stopping her.
In 1890, Helen enrolled in the Perkins Institution for the Blind, and she began taking speech lessons at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf.
With Anne’s help, Helen even graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904 and wrote The Story of My Life while still a student.
Soon, Anne and Helen began touring the United States fighting for social justice issues of the day. Helen even persuaded President Herbert Hoover and his wife to give a reception for the World Conference on Work for the Blind which she had organized.
In World War II, Helen visited army hospitals, paying special attention to those who had been blinded. She described that as the “crowning experience of my life.”
Helen died in 1968, and will forever be known as an American hero.
Like Helen and the good servants in Jesus’ parable, we too are called to use our talents. Here are three Biblical principles to keep in mind.
First, all of us have gifts from God. As children, we explore what these gifts might be. As we get older, we discover what we are good at and what nurtures our spirits.
Second, we then must develop our talents. In this country, the most common way of developing our talents is through higher education. We go to school and get the necessary credentials to put our dreams into reality.
And third, we share our gifts with others, for as Catholic Christians, we believe that all of our gifts are social in nature. That means we are never to hoard our gifts, but rather share them and share them abundantly, especially with those who have so little.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we use our own gifts.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Sandra McLeod Humphrey. “Helen Keller,” in Dare to Dream! 25
Extraordinary Lives, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005, pp. 29-32.